Smoking ; Advertising Essay

Everyday 3,000 children start smoking, most them between the ages of
10 and 18. These kids account for 90 percent of all new smokers. In fact,
90 percent of all adult smokers said that they first lit up as teenagers
(Roberts). These statistics clearly show that young people are the prime
target in the tobacco wars. The cigarette manufacturers may deny it, but
advertising and promotion play a vital part in making these facts a reality
The kings of these media ploys are Marlboro and Camel. Marlboro uses a
fictional western character called The Marlboro Man, while Camel uses Joe
Camel, a high-rolling, swinging cartoon character. Joe Camel, the smooth
character from R.J. Reynolds, who is shown as a dromedary with complete
style has been attacked by many Tobacco-Free Kids organizations as a major
influence on the children of America. Dr. Lonnie Bristow, AMA (American
Medical Association) spokesman, remarks that to kids, cute cartoon
characters mean that the product is harmless, but cigarettes are not
harmless. They have to know that their ads are influencing the youth under
18 to begin smoking(Breo). Researchers at the Medical College of Georgia
report that almost as many 6-year olds recognize Joe Camel as know Mickey
Mouse (Breo). That is very shocking information for any parent to hear.
The industry denies that these symbols target people under 21 and claim
that their advertising goal is simply to promote brand switching and
loyalty. So what do the tobacco companies do to keep their industry alive and well?
Seemingly, they go toward a market that is not fully aware of the harm that
cigarettes are capable of.
Next to addiction, the tobacco industry depends on advertising as its most
powerful tool in maintaining its success. Addiction is what keeps people smoking
day after day; advertising cigarettes with delusive images is what causes millions to
be tempted enough to begin the lethal habit. Cigarettes are the most heavily
advertised product in America. The tobacco industry spends billions of dollars each
year to ensure that its products are associated with elegance, prosperity and finesse,
rather than lung cancer, bronchitis and heart disease (Taylor 44). Since there is little
to distinguish one brand of cigarettes from the next, cigarettes must be advertised
through emotional appeals instead of product benefits. Thus, the cigarette’s appeal
to the consumer is entirely a matter of perception, or rather, misperception.

There are a few American publications – such as the Readers Digest, Good
Housekeeping, the New Yorker, and Washington Monthly – that do not accept
cigarette advertising as a matter of principle. But for the majority of American
publications, the millions of dollars they receive each year from tobacco
advertisements is not only enough to keep the advertisements running throughout
the year, but enough to control the material they publish. On many occasions,
newspaper and magazine editors have pulled out articles on smoking and health that
they would have otherwise published if the articles did not have the ability to
interfere with their relations with the cigarette companies. An article in the Columbia
Journalism Revue, analyzing coverage which leading national magazines had given
to cigarettes and cancer in the 1970s, concluded that it was:
. . . unable to find a single article in 7 years of publication that would have given
readers any clear notion of the nature and extent of the medical and social havoc
being wreaked by the cigarette-smoking habit. . . one must conclude that advertising
revenue can indeed silence the editors of American magazines. (qtd. in Taylor 45)
Of all of the newspapers and magazines in America, those with the largest
percent of teenage readers seem to be the tobacco industry’s favorite places for
advertising. Similarly, tobacco advertisement remains most popular among billboards
located closest to colleges, high schools, and even junior highs. This approach of
advertising to young people has been kept a closely guarded secret since, besides
being illegal, the companies are ashamed of it. If they had a choice, cigarette
companies would simply keep their business between the adult population and not
have to worry about enticing children into smoking – but that is not the case. There
are two fundamental reasons why it is necessary for the tobacco industry to market
their products towards young people (Hilts 63-64):
Nicotine addiction, which is paramount to the industry, does not develop in
adults. Among adults over age 21 who begin smoking for the first time, over 90
percent soon stop completely (65). Among young people ages 12 through 17, who
smoke at least a pack a day, 84 percent reported that they were dependent on
cigarettes. Virtually all tobacco use begins at childhood. Half of the adult smoking
population has started by age 14 (Glantz et al. 59); nearly 90 percent of those who
will smoke as adults are already smoking daily by the time they reach age 19. It can
take up to three years of smoking to establish a nicotine addiction; adults simply do
not stick with it long enough (Hilts 65).

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The second reason why it is vital for companies to invite children to smoking,
has to do with the state of mind of the adolescent. Children, by nature, are attracted
to many things that the cigarette has to offer them: defiance of authority, a sense of
individualism (which is an illusion, considering they are one among some 50
million), emulation of an admired image, social acceptance by peers, a perception of
masculinity (for males) or sexiness (for females), and many other false notions that
help settle various insecurities of the adolescent. Tobacco executives realize that if
they introduce their products as being capable of relieving numerous social
pressures that teenagers undergo, their products will be perceived this way (to an
extent) by a large percentage of children; these children will let the industry affect
their actions and, ultimately, their lives.

It is for these two reasons that the industry must focus their attention on
persuading young people to start smoking. Cigarette companies view their
advertising approach as an investment. Young people, who are only a small
percentage of the market, slowly accumulate in numbers, year by year, and increase
their habit as they grow older. Eventually, this small group of consumers develops
into the majority of the tobacco market (Hilts 77). It is moreover advantageous for
companies to target youths since young smokers have greater brand loyalty – a
very high likelihood of staying with their first regular brand of cigarettes for years or
even for life (76).

Tobacco companies have learned exactly how to market their product to
children through extensive research and psychological study of youths; the most
intense studies did not start until after the scares of 1954. In the late 1950s, Philip
Morris found through comprehensive research that young males started smoking
because, to them, it represented an independence from their parents. What PM’s
advertising agency came up with were commercials that would turn rookie smokers
on to Marlboro . . . the right image to capture the youth market’s fancy . . . a perfect
symbol of independence and individualistic rebellion (qtd. in Hilts 67). With this in
mind, they decided that images of a lone, rugged cowboy would catch the attention
of male children. The Marlboro Man soon began to capture the largest percentage of
starters and clearly put Philip Morris at the top of the tobacco industry; PM tried to
duplicate the success of Marlboros by creating Virginia Slims for young girls in the
late 1960s (66-69).

There is no doubt that peer group influence is the single most important
factor in the decision by the adolescent to smoke . . . The adolescent seeks to display
his new urge for independence with a symbol, and cigarettes are such a symbol
since they are associated with adulthood and at the same time the adults seek to
deny them to the young. (qtd. in Hilts 83)
R.J. Reynolds eventually did respond to the youth market in 1988 with
Camel cigarettes. RJR’s market basically remained the same since 1913, before they
modified their advertising approach 75 years later (Hilts 70). Camels, which had
previously been pitched to smokers over 50 years old, were suddenly targeted
towards those under 20 years old with the introduction of the cartoon Joe Camel in
February, 1988 (79-80). RJR established a program to sell their cigarettes to what is
referred to in their documents as YAS, or young adult smokers. (They were
referred to in the documents as young adults only for legal purposes; orally, it was
agreed that the targeted groups were much younger.) The program carefully
governs, among other things, the placement of ads and propaganda. They ensure that
stores within 1,000 feet of schools carry more promotions than other stores; that
promotions are closest to candy counters more often than anywhere else; that
displays are more often set at a height of three feet or lower; and that stores in
neighborhoods with a large number of children under 17 receive a greater number
of signs promoting their cigarettes (92-93).

The effectiveness of the tobacco industry’s psychologically designed
promotions has been remarkable. Coinciding with the 1967 ad campaigns which
targeted young girls, there was a sudden rise in teenage, female smokers: 110
percent in 12-year-olds, 55 percent in 13-year-olds, 70 percent 14-year-olds, 75
percent in 15-year-olds, 55 percent in 16-year-olds, and 35 percent in 17-year olds
(Hilts 69). Within three years after Camels were introduced to children in 1988, the
brand jumped from 3 percent to more than 13 percent of the cigarette market; the
jump was even larger among the youngest groups (70). An R.J. Reynolds executive
was asked exactly who the young people are that are being targeted, junior high
school kids, or even younger? His reply made RJR’s objective clear: They got lips?
We Want ’em. If this is truly who the tobacco industry is aiming for, their
achievements are considerable. More than 100,000 American children ages 12 and
under are habitual smokers (Mixon 3). Every day, 3,000 to 5,000 American kids
light a cigarette for the first time. Children spend a billion dollars a year on
cigarettes. Tobacco companies must make sure that they recruit enough new
smokers every day, taking into account that they loose one of their life-long
customers to disease every 13 seconds (Starr and Taggart 706).

Tobacco products have claimed the lives of more people than those who
died in World War Two (Jaffa 85). The sum of its victims exceeds the number of
deaths resulting from alcohol abuse, illegal drug abuse, AIDS, traffic accidents,
homicides, and suicides combined (Glantz xvii). There are thousands of documents
from tobacco companies which reveal that the industry has been remarkably
successful in protecting its ability to market an addictive product that not only kills its
customers by the millions, but also shrinks the economy by 22 billion dollars
annually (Starr and Taggart 706). The industry has uniquely been able to market its
lethal products by tactfully instilling completely irrational desires in the vulnerable
minds of children. Although tobacco products have been proven to be seriously
hazardous to health, some 50 million Americans continue to smoke regularly; this is
not necessarily a matter of personal choice as the companies claim. Rather, after
seducing young people’s minds (by explaining smoking as glamorous rather than
deadly), the whole business trusts that these youths will continue to smoke because
they will develop addictions to the nicotine in tobacco. Along with some help from
the government, the industry fights regulation of their product through the skilled
legal, political, and public relations tactics that helped them create an imaginary
controversy on the effects of smoking. This situation, however, is slowly changing.

The deception of the tobacco industry has recently become better publicized through
the revelation of internal documents which previously have been suppressed by the
companies. (Among these documents, those of Brown ; Willamson and have been
greatly exposed.) Every day, organizations such as the FDA (Food and Drug
Administration) are taking steps to control the virtually unregulated sale of cigarettes
and other tobacco products. Until something effective is done, however, the best
way to fight the merchants of death is to influence their prey – the impressionable
minds of children – before they do.

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